On Being (a modern) Emma Woodhouse

I don’t think it’s any kind of a secret that I love Jane Austen. Like most Austen loving ladies, I’ve always wanted to know which Austen lady best corresponds to my own personality. I definitely wanted to be Lizzy Bennet for a while. I love the idea of Anne Elliot, and I definitely have some Anne Elliot tendencies in me such as my determination to do what needs to be done simply because it needs to be done. For many years, that seemed to be Elinor Dashwood. And I think that is still true in some regards; for example, I want other people to be happy even if it means that I will be unhappy. But in other ways, I’m much more of an Emma Woodhouse.

Believe it or not, that isn’t easy for me to accept. I long ago realized that my best match in an Austen hero would be George Knightley. (And no, that wasn’t just because I think that Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley is absurdly attractive.) But I didn’t want to be Emma Woodhouse. True story: The first time that I tried to read the book, I hated Emma so much that I threw the book across the room and didn’t revisit it for two years. Now, I think that most of my problems with Emma were things that I recognize as flaws in myself.

I didn’t want to be loud or opinionated. I’m not a matchmaker. I don’t want to be seen as butting into other people’s lives. I didn’t want to be Emma. See, there are things about Emma that annoy me-like REALLY annoy me-and I don’t want to be annoying.

But…I do like to be in charge. I am strong-willed. I’m stubborn. I like things to be my way. I can be really loud. I am very opinionated. I do worry about others. I want what’s best. And I don’t always do the best job of conveying that. Sometimes, I annoy other people. Heck, sometimes, I annoy myself.

Is it just me or do I sound like Emma? There’s more to me than just that paragraph, but I definitely have some Emma in me.

Oddly, I like looking at myself and recognizing Emma. It makes me more comfortable with some of the louder, more intense aspects of my personality. It helps me to see that I’m not alone in this loud eccentricity that is my personality. It helps me to know that I’m not the first woman have this sort of personality and I won’t be the last. It also helps me to find ways to manage my more Emma self. I need to find ways to calm my stress. I need to find ways to embrace some of my zaniness and present it in a more appealing fashion.

There is nothing wrong with having an intense, exuberant personality. Do I need to calm myself down when I’m upset? Of course I do. Do I need to radically change her personality? No, I don’t. Exuberance is not wrong. At times it needs to be tempered. At times, my worry-wort tendencies need to be tempered as well. But they aren’t bad things, and their existence within my personality doesn’t make me a bad person.

Similarly, Emma Woodhouse is not a bad person. She is strong-willed. She can be wrong at times. (I can also be wrong once in a while.) She loves fiercely. She is incredibly passionate about life and people. I think those are great traits. Is she human? Yes, she is absolutely human. But in spite of her faults, she is also a good person.

She needs appropriate influences, as do I. Like Emma, I need people who challenge me and don’t just yield to my will. I don’t always like being challenged, but it is good for me. Harriet Smith is a genuinely sweet person, but she can’t push or challenge Emma in the same way that George Knightley can. Similarly, I need friends who challenge me. Knowing that I’m an Emma helps me to recognize that in myself and to seek out what I need.

There are definitely downsides to being an Emma. You’re loud. You’re opinionated. People think you’re annoying-and they make sure that you know it. (Or maybe that’s just my own experience; I really hope that it is.) You need to be challenged, but you don’t always like being challenged. It’s not always easy to find people who enjoy your personality.

But it is ultimately a good thing to be an Emma. No one can push an Emma around. No one can tell her what to do. And I think that’s a good thing. People might find me overwhelming or annoying, but I stand my ground. I hold true to myself. That might mean that I have fewer friends, but I’m learning to be content with who I am and to enjoy my own eccentricity. I think that is very Emma but also very Elinor and Lizzy and Anne. (I think it might also be a sign of being an adult, but I’m not sure of that.)

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2 thoughts on “On Being (a modern) Emma Woodhouse

  1. Hmm…I never liked Emma, but I do like you, so, there is that. I always identified most with Fanny, comfortable around people I love and internally awkward with everyone else and so on… Though I am not as timid as her.

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